Should SVP Encourage Competition or Collaboration? Part II
*This post is in response to Janet's last post that discusses the issues surrounding collaboration vs. competition.
About a year ago, as I wrote about Collective Impact, I raised the question of whether SVP was encouraging competition or collaboration.
In the ensuing year, I’ve learned more. I attended a Strive Network conference in Portland which brought together over 80 collective impact efforts from across the country. I sit on the SVP Seattle Education Collective Action Team which is examining what role SVP Seattle should play in educational collective action efforts. I’ve met with partners from other SVP affiliates to learn what they are doing. I have talked to EDs of organizations participating in CI efforts. And I am on the board of Eastside Pathways, the backbone for a collective impact effort in Bellevue WA where I live.
So I am seeing collective action from multiple perspectives: funder, participating nonprofit, and backbone organization. I have a couple thoughts:
- Times are tough. We all have to be smarter about how we work – which is one impetus for collective action efforts. These efforts not only require shared goals and measurement, continuous communication, evidence-based decision making, and a neutral backbone, but they also need strong nonprofits to participate in the effort.
- Participating in a collective impact effort requires time and resources on the part of the nonprofits. Therefore if a region has multiple efforts as Seattle has, backbones should streamline as much as possible. We need to align what data we track and share and use similar formats.
- Funders can support backbone efforts by encouraging nonprofits to participate. Prioritizing funding to a geographic location or to a collective impact effort are two possible ways. The message to the nonprofit is: If you provide services in a geographic area where a collective impact effort is underway, we want you to be part of it. Importantly, funders also need to fund the nonprofits and community based organizations – not just the backbone. And funders can help organizations engage by providing general operating support grants and capacity building.
- Funders should create a “Common App.” I have heard stories about how much time nonprofits spend simply reformatting their budgets. What a waste of effort! If thousands of colleges and universities across the country can agree on a common application, the nonprofits in King County can too. Most of the application – all the nuts and bolts – should be the same. Then add supplemental information that is specific to the funder.
- Each region has many nonprofits. Many were started to address a specific need in a specific community. But they are struggling. As we map services to identify gaps, overlaps, and barriers to success, we also need to think about how we can build capacity in these organizations and, when appropriate, how to get them to merge and/or to share some back office resources such as finance, data management, human resources, even fund raising.
- Community outreach is a challenge for collective action efforts. To be effective, we can’t rely on token participation. Representatives of our struggling communities HAVE to help identify the needs and develop the solutions. As noted, these small community-based organizations don’t have the resources to participate. All of us need to address this extremely important challenge.
SVP Seattle is going to spend this next year running a pilot to see what capacity building capabilities are needed for nonprofits of various sizes to engage effectively in education collective action efforts. We suspect that they will require more than just more staff. Stay tuned.